obstetrics (ŏbstĕˈtrĭks) [key], branch of medicine concerned with the treatment of women during pregnancy, labor, childbirth (see birth), and the time after childbirth. Obstetricians work to ensure that pregnancy culminates in the delivery of a healthy baby, without impairing the health of the mother. The mother's medical history and health status are initially evaluated. Physical examination discloses the mother's uterine size and estimates the length of her pregnancy. If the obstetrician detects abnormalities, prenatal testing may need to be done on the fetus. An important modern development has been ultrasonography, which allows the obstetrician to non-invasively diagnose intra-uterine conditions. Delivery of the baby is helped by the use of a Friedman's chart, which shows the patterns of cervical dilation. The care of women during childbirth was originally in the hands of women (see midwifery), but in the 16th cent. physicians grew interested in the field. Of special importance were the invention of the delivery forceps by Peter Chamberlen in the 17th cent. and the introduction of anesthesia in the 19th cent. The adoption of antiseptic methods according to the theories of Joseph Lister and Ignaz Semmelweis reduced the incidence of infection in childbirth and made possible successful cesarean section. Obstetrics is often combined with gynecology as a medical specialty.
See J. Bonnar, ed. Recent Advances in Obstetrics and Gynecology (1992).